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Written by: Diana West
Friday, April 01, 2011 3:04 AM 

Photo by AP: Elham Omar Hotaki, deputy of the pilot project of the planned New Kabul City walks past by a white line showing part of the outline of a planned new city north of Kabul.

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If you like US Marines walking around Marja handing out $50,000 a day, you'll love the US taxpayer, the Japanese, others and, of course, "private investors" injecting untold billions to build "New Kabul City." Maybe they can get some collateral-free, interest-free, free loans from Bank of Kabul?

From the AP:

KABUL, Afghanistan — “New Kabul City” — a shiny new, multibillion-dollar project — sounds like a pipe dream to people living practically on top of each other in Afghanistan’s war-battered capital, where most streets are unpaved and security forces are on constant watch for suicide bombers.

But urban planners, investors and government officials working to develop the modern urban area about a 30-minute drive north of Kabul say it will be home to an estimated 1.5 million people when it’s completed in 2025.

The $34 billion public-private project — 750 square kilometers at the foothills of the majestic Safi Mountains — is bigger than the existing Kabul.

Standing on vacant land at the site, Elham Omar Hotaki, who works with the government authority developing the project, pointed to color-coded maps plotting homes and apartments, shops, mosques, a library, a fire station, areas for farming and light industry — even picturesque parks.

“When each mega project starts, everyone thinks it won’t happen,” Hotaki said acknowledging that some people are dubious the development will ever be built.

“After World War II, who could imagine that New York would look like it does — a big city? No one. Everyone thought it was impossible, impossible, impossible,” Hotaki said, his hair blowing in the breeze. “But I think it’s possible.”

Someone should send Hotaki a 1930s postcard of Manhattan, but I guess that's beside the point. Or maybe not -- shows the depth of delusional thinking operating here.

New Kabul City began in 2006 when President Hamid Karzai set up a board of key Afghan stakeholders to develop a new city to provide additional housing for residents of the capital, which is bursting at its seams. ...

Bank of Kabul?

In 2009, the Afghan Cabinet endorsed a master plan to build the new city in three phases spanning 15 years. By 2025, the project is expected to create 500,000 jobs — 100,000 in agriculture, 100,000 in industry and 300,000 in service and other sectors.

The first phase, to be completed in 2015, is to provide 80,000 housing units for 400,000 people. Contracts are to be awarded this year for developing the first 18,400 units, and construction could start as early as 2012.

“The only thing which can possibly stop this is not a good security situation,” Hassanzadah said. “If we have good security, you will see that development will go very, very fast.”

Many challenges remain. Insurgent attacks must be curbed, investors need to sign deals, and Afghans have to want to buy and rent the homes and businesses to be built.

The age-old social engineer-lunatic dilemma.

Rich and poor are to live in the 250,000 residential units planned in the new city, according to project officials. An estimated 70,000 will be in the mid- to high-priced range; 70,000 will be mid-priced units; 60,000 will be low-priced units; and 50,000 will be rural abodes.

So tidy.

The plan is for ....

Guess:

international donors and the Afghan government ...

... to supply $11 billion over the next 15 to 20 years to build water and sewer lines, electricity and roads. Japan, which is already working on water feasibility studies, and the Asian Development Bank have pledged to help build streets, initial infrastructure and power lines. Project officials said they could not yet disclose how much Japan and ADB had pledged.

Private investors in Afghanistan, the United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Azerbaijan also have expressed interest by seeking more information about the development, the officials said.

Translation: Big Brush-off (Oh, sure, we'd love more information....)

All told, an estimated $23 billion worth of private sector money for constructing the city after infrastructure is in place is expected to be invested in the project.

Bank of Kabul?

The project was unveiled to potential U.S. investors in February, and about 50 representatives of 26 Afghan and international development companies gathered at a Kabul hotel this week to learn more and tour the site.

On the half-hour drive, their convoy passed crowded, dusty neighborhoods and maneuvered through traffic choked with cars, armored military vehicles, buses, men pushing wheelbarrows loaded with potatoes and policemen standing guard with rifles.

As the dozen-vehicle convoy left the city, the traffic eased. The convoy sped by heavy equipment distributors, nomadic Kuchi villagers tending goats and sheep grazing on piles of trash.

I know: Let's build them a $34 billion city they can nomad-away from.

Still farther from Kabul, the air freshened and the convoy pulled up to the development site office on a main road about halfway between Kabul and Bagram Air Field.

“Over here is open space, fresh air,” said Ghousuddin Ahmadi, president of Star Construction in Kabul, who went on the tour. “It’s a planned city. They have thought about the sewage system. They have thought about the infrastructure, so we feel it’s a pretty complete project that is worth investing in.”

In addition to government land, Afghan authorities are acquiring land at the site. Teams are working to identify property owners — not an easy task, as land records in Afghanistan are sketchy at best.

Currently, donkeys roam freely around square plots that people have demarcated with knee-high stone and brick walls. Some people who built walls have legal title to the land, but others are simply trying to claim it’s theirs. Project officials say that without proper paperwork, they will not be compensated.

Mahmoud Saikal, senior adviser to the Independent Board of New Kabul City Development, said the project requires security, legal norms and cooperation from Afghan government ministries.

Anyone know a good rent-a-cop?

“In Afghanistan, there is an expression that the road to paradise doesn’t go through a Persian rug,” Saikal said. “It means the road to getting this project materialized is not an easy one.”

Although corruption has become endemic in Afghan society, Hassanzadah said it will not be tolerated as New Kabul rises.

“It is a clean project,” Hassanzadah said. “We are committed to transparency. Corruption is a two-way road. We expect investors and developers to be transparent as well. ... We will not allow for public money to be abused.”

Sayed Daud, a businessman who owns about 150 acre$ at the site, said only recently has he started seeing a flurry of government and business officials at the site, carrying maps and cameras.

“All this activity is giving us hope,” Daud said.

Let my people go....

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